Day 11, Thursday, July 26, 2018
The day before, I had visited Fort Phil Kearny and learned about the Fetterman Fight. I blogged about my visit here. The next morning, on my way out of Sheridan, I visited the site of the Fetterman Fight. In the Fetterman Fight, about 90 soldiers had been dispatched outside of the fort to guard woodcutters about 5 miles away; they were cutting wood for fort construction and heating fuel. The wagon train was attacked, and signaled to the fort that they needed back up.
The Commanding Officer at the fort, Colonel Henry Carrington, dispatched about 50 more soldiers under the command of Captain William Fetterman to provide relief, but Carrington gave orders that under no circumstances were they to go over the ridge line in the area. The Native Americans successfully lured them into a trap though; over the ridge. When all was said and done, Fetterman and 81 soldiers had been killed, stripped naked and mutilated in ritual fashion. In less than six months of Fort Phil Kearny’s existence, 96 soldiers and 58 civilians had been killed.
It was certainly a sad time in US history, with the army and the tribes battling for control of the land all across the West, and the tribes being forced further and further onto undesirable reservation land as white men moved in to mine, ranch and farm. The Native Americans had enough; who can blame them? The Fetterman Fight was a pre-cursor to the Battle of Little Bighorn, which occurred 10 years later near present-day Billings, Montana.
The battle was a win for the tribes; even though skirmishes continued in the area and the tribes lost their competitive advantage when the troops at the fort were armed with breach loading rifles in 1867. The 1867 Wagon Box Fight was a draw, even though the tribes had between 300 and 1,000 warriors in the battle against the government’s 32 troops and civilian wood cutters.
In 1868 the US Government negotiated a peace treaty with Red Cloud; the Native Americans retained control of the Powder River country. The three forts along the Bozeman Trail were abandoned; the Cheyenne burned Fort Phil Kearny shortly after. However, in 1868, the railroad had reached the area, making the wagon trails obsolete; it was much faster and much less dangerous to take a train west than to try to cover the ground in a wagon. Unfortunately for the tribes the train made it that much easier and safer for whites to continue to move into the area; the encroachment continued and the tribes only retained their control of the area for eight more years.
Carrington, his wife, and the other women and children left the fort after the Fetterman fight; Carrington was publicly maligned for his role in the battle, even though a report showed that Fetterman had acted in violation of the orders that Carrington had given him. He wrote years later about the battle and managed to re-establish his tarnished reputation.
It was interesting to visit the site, and I was completely alone there. I hiked most of the mile long trail, but rain was threatening so I headed back to the car just as a few big, fat raindrops started. I got on the road to head east – I had more to see that day!
And no, I didn’t see any rattlesnakes… Sadly…